January 11, 2008 in Business

Mortgage rates below 6%

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON — Rising worries about a weak economy pushed rates on 30-year mortgages below 6 percent for only the second time in more than two years.

Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 5.87 percent this week.

That was down from 6.07 percent last week and the lowest level for 30-year mortgages in two years. Only once during that time have rates fallen below 6 percent, dipping to 5.96 percent Dec. 6.

Analysts attributed this week’s decline to Friday’s employment report, which showed the jobless rate jumping to 5 percent in December, up from 4.7 percent in November. It was the highest jobless mark in two years and biggest one-month increase since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The weak employment picture has heightened fears that the steep slump in housing and a credit crisis that hit in August could be pushing the country into a recession. However, economists believe further rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and a possible economic stimulus package of tax cuts from the administration still could ward off a full-blown downturn.

Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac, said that because mortgage rates have dropped by more than a quarter-point in the past two weeks, there has been an increase in the number of people refinancing mortgages to more attractive rates, a development which should help spur the economy going forward.

But economists said they are not looking for rates to fall much more even with a pledge from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday that the central bank is prepared to cut a key rate it controls to combat the threat of a recession.

Analysts said Bernanke’s comments did not do much to change the view that the central bank, which has cut rates three times, will lower rates further. Those expectations for further rate cuts already have been built into the prices investors are willing to pay for Treasury’s 10-year bond, the key benchmark for long-term mortgage rates.

Mark Zandi, an economist with Moody’s Economy.com, said he expected 30-year mortgages to move in a narrow range over coming months around the 6 percent level although he said it could fall further if the economy goes into a full-blown recession.

Rates on 15-year mortgages, a popular choice for refinancing, dropped to 5.43 percent this week, down from 5.68 percent last week. Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages declined to 5.63 percent, compared to 5.78 percent last week. Rates on one-year ARMs fell to 5.37 percent, down from 5.47 percent last week.

The mortgage rates do not include add-on fees known as points. Thirty-year, 15-year and one-year mortgages each carried a nationwide average fee of 0.4 point. Five-year mortgages had a fee of 0.5 point.

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